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Aaron Harrison’s clutch three-pointer lifts Kentucky past Michigan

Mar 30, 2014, 7:31 PM EDT

harrison Getty Images

INDIANAPOLIS — Before the season, Kentucky — the No. 1 team in America in the preseason — was expected to advance to its 16th Final Four in program history.

With a loaded roster that included seven McDonald’s All-Americans and potential NBA players coming off of the bench, many believed Kentucky would coast to its third Final Four in the last four years and ludicrous talk of a 40-0 season was even present.

But John Calipari’s young team had many bumps in the road, and after a 24-10 regular season, the Wildcats entered the Midwest Regional as the No. 8 seed. Kentucky peaked at the right time, however, as the Wildcats knocked off their third consecutive team from last season’s Final Four with a thrilling 75-72 win over No. 2 seed Michigan on Sunday in the Elite 8 of the Midwest Regional.

With the game tied 72-72 with 27 seconds left, Kentucky went to Aaron Harrison for the game’s deciding bucket as the freshman shooting guard nailed a contested three-pointer from the left wing with 2.3 seconds left to give the Wildcats the 75-72 lead. After a timeout, Michigan’s Nik Stauskas (24 points) missed a three-pointer near the time line as Kentucky mobbed each other at center court.

A massive weight had been lifted off the Wildcats’ chest.

“I wasn’t really there for my team in the first half and I knew I had to knock down some shots at the end and that’s what I did,” Harrison said after the game.

Scoreless in the first half, Harrison knocked down four three-pointers in the second half to help send Kentucky to the Final Four for the third time in the last four seasons under Calipari.

After an entertaining 37-37 first half, Kentucky started the second half on an 8-2 run before the Wolverines hit some shots and got back in the game to take a 55-53 lead with 10:52 left. But the Wildcats made a strong final push — as they have all tournament long — and didn’t trail for the final 8:52 of the game.

Freshman forward Julius Randle recorded his fourth consecutive double-double of the 2014 NCAA Tournament with 16 points and 11 rebounds. Wing James Young knocked in multiple clutch — and Michigan momentum-killing — three-pointers to finish with 13 points while Lee came off the bench to score 10 points and grab eight rebounds after scoring nine points total in all of 2014.

Despite struggling to hit shots for much of the game, Andrew Harrison finished with eight points, six assists and three rebounds for the Wildcats.

Kentucky (28-10) bested No. 9 seed Kansas State, 56-49, previously-undefeated No. 1 seed Wichita State, 78-76, and No. 4 seed and last year’s NCAA champion Louisville, 74-69 before Sunday’s win to reach the Final Four in Arlington, Texas.

In a season in which the headlines were dominated by a strong freshmen class, Kentucky’s elite group of first-year players — headlined by six McDonald’s All-Americans — are the only ones left standing after Kansas’ Joel Embiid and Andrew Wiggins and Duke’s Jabari Parker didn’t make it out of the first weekend of games.

The Wildcats started five freshmen again on Sunday and two other freshmen — forward Marcus Lee and point guard Dominique Hawkins — came off the bench to provide a key lift for Kentucky.

Kentucky’s freshmen seem to be coming together on both ends of the floor at just the right time and many people would say they’re the most talented team in the Final Four, despite losing three times this season to No. 1 overall seed Florida — a fellow SEC Final Four team.

The Wolverines (28-9) finish this season coming up just short of a second consecutive Final Four. Stauskas led all scorers with 24 points while sophomore forward Glenn Robinson III added 14 points. Battling foul trouble for much of the game, senior center Jordan Morgan finished with 11 points for Michigan.

No. 8 seed Kentucky moves on to face No. 2 seed Wisconsin, the winner of the West Regional.

  1. jaydm84 - Mar 30, 2014 at 7:40 PM

    Down year for the SEC.

  2. cobrawolf - Mar 30, 2014 at 8:06 PM

    This must make the SEC the best conference this year. Look at their record in the tournament.

    • anythingbutyanks - Mar 30, 2014 at 8:39 PM

      A conference with excellent teams at the top does not a “best conference” make. I used to live in Lexington, still reside in KY, and am a UK fan who loves the superiority of the SEC in football- but the middle and bottom of the SEC basketball pack would be destroyed by the bottom of the pack in several other large conferences. The SEC has had a GREAT run in this tournament, but two weekends of basketball doesn’t determine conference superiority.

      • babyfarkmcgeezax - Mar 30, 2014 at 10:39 PM

        The so-called “superiority” of the SEC in football, which itself is a myth perpetuated by ESPN, is not the result of anything Kentucky has ever done.

  3. babyfarkmcgeezax - Mar 30, 2014 at 8:11 PM

    The NCAA should just save us the trouble and let Michigan move on to the Final Four since we all know Calipari will eventually be hit with recruiting violations and this “win” will be vacated along with every other Kentucky win during his tenure.

  4. barkleyblows - Mar 30, 2014 at 8:34 PM

    Overrated big ten again this year!!

    Kentucky is one step closer to another championship!!

  5. themagicfanguy - Mar 30, 2014 at 9:16 PM

    Superiority of the SEC in football? What a joke.

    • 1historian - Mar 31, 2014 at 9:03 AM

      What part of 6 straight National Championships and coming within 2 minutes of a 7th don’t you understand?

      • babyfarkmcgeezax - Mar 31, 2014 at 10:12 AM

        A. With ESPN hype and bias influencing pre-season rankings, SEC teams had an unfair advantage in reaching the BCS championship game. “Hey, let’s rank the entire SEC in the TOP 25 before anyone’s even played a single game, then we can brag about how much of a “gauntlet” it is to play in the conference!”

        B. The National Championships streak only tells us the SEC had the No. 1 single team in the nation each of those years. Remember when Alabama was the SEC runner-up and went on to get slaughtered against Utah? Or how about Georgia, the SEC runner-up a few years ago, getting manhandled by Boise State and losing by two touchdowns?

        C. Using the “logic” SEC fans use to claim conference superiority, the ACC should be considered the football king now since Florida State is the most recent national champion. But they aren’t acknowledging the ACC as the best football conference, so they are discrediting their own reasoning that the SEC was the best conference during their own championship years.

      • florida727 - Apr 1, 2014 at 3:20 PM

        Not much of a “historian” are you? Try SEVEN straight National Championships, and almost an 8th.

  6. cobrawolf - Mar 30, 2014 at 9:30 PM

    a writer on this site stated the tournament is where you find out how good ones conference is. Two teams from the one conference in final four, would make that statement evidence. Imo the Big XII was the best conference all season long.

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